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The Last Man (Wordsworth Classics) [Paperback]

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2004 Wordsworth Classics

This Wordsworth Edition includes an exclusive Introduction and Notes by Dr Pamela Bickley, The Godolphin and Latymer School, formerly of Royal Holloway, University of London.

The Last Man is Mary Shelley's apocalyptic fantasy of the end of human civilisation. Set in the late twenty-first century, the novel unfolds a sombre and pessimistic vision of mankind confronting inevitable destruction. Interwoven with her futuristic theme, Mary Shelley incorporates idealised portraits of Shelley and Byron, yet rejects Romanticism and its faith in art and nature.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was the only daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and the radical philosopher William Godwin. Her mother died ten days after her birth and the young child was educated through contact with her father's intellectual circle and her own reading. She met Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1812; they eloped in July 1814. In the summer of 1816 she began her first and most famous novel, Frankenstein. Three of her children died in early infancy and in 1822 her husband was drowned. Mary returned to England with her surviving son and wrote novels, short stories and accounts of her travels; she was the first editor of P.B.Shelley's poetry and verse.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New edition edition (1 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1840224037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1840224030
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The Last Man created an entirely new genre, compounded of the domestic romance, the Gothic extravaganza, and the sociological novel... [Mary Shelley's] most interesting, if not her most consummate work." Muriel Spark "A fascinating ... novel-romance on a timely subject." Studies in English Literature "An absorbing roman a clef, [it] develops one of the major themes of romantic art, that of spiritual isolation, and ... treats it in a unique way." The Year's Work in English Studies --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

The Broadview Editions series is an effort to represent the ever-changing canon of literature in English by bringing together texts long regarded as classics with valuable, lesser-known literature. Newly type-set and produced on high-quality paper in trade paperback format, the Broadview Editions series is a delight to handle as well as to read.

Each volume includes a full introduction, chronology, bibliography, and explanatory notes along with a variety of documents from the period, giving readers a rich sense of the world from which the work emerged. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAME VINE VOICE
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley published "The Last Man" in 1826, eight years after her classic "Frankenstein" and four years after her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley died. Of all of her other novels, "The Last Man" is clearly the one that is of more than passing interest. In her Journal in May of 1824 Shelley wrote: "The last man! Yes, I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me." The result was one of the first novels to tell a story in which the human race is destroyed by pestilence, which we have seen in novels from Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" and Stephen King's "The Stand," and films such as the recent "28 Days Later..." However, "The Last Man" is also an early example of a dystopian novel set in the 21st century when England is a republic being governed by a ruling elite. Adrian, Earl of Windsor (and a representation of Shelley's late husband) introduces the narrator of the tale, Lionel Verney, who is the required outsider to describe and comment upon the world of the future.
Shelley's vision of the future is essentially a reaction against Romanticism and the failure of the movement to solve the problems of the world with art and imagination. This would stand in contrast to earlier English utopian works such as Francis Bacon's "The New Atlantis," which reflected the Age of Reason's belief that science would solve any and all problems. Shelley begins the story as a romance, with Lord Raymond (presumed to be modeled on Lord Byron) winning the hand of the lovely Perdita and being elected Protector. In contrast to the dire predictions of Thomas Malthus regarding unchecked population growth resulting in mass starvation, an ideal world seems to have been created.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I found this rather a chore to read. Mary Shelley is a great evocative writer. However, the dense opacity of much of the text, its, for the most part, slow pace and, especially, the complete absence of any remotely believable three dimensional characters (they're all handsome and noble heroes and beautiful ladies), were problems for me. Also, from a modern perspective, the portrayal of 2090s society fails totally, as there is no technology (e.g. all long distance travelling is by sailing ship or sailing balloon). The social structure is entirely the same as that of the 1820s except that England is a a republic, though rather a strange one where all significant characters are nobles, including the son of the last deposed king. All this said, the tragic last section, where the surviving population diminishes from 1500 to 80 to 50 to 4 to 3 then finally to Lionel Verney, the Last Man, is hauntingly and movingly described. Reading the Introduction afterwards, which covers the author's motives, helped somewhat with my comprehension of the work.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mary Shelley�s Other Masterpiece 26 Oct 2001
"The Last Man" has always been completely overshadowed by the ever-present "Frankenstein" and as a result has been largely ignored by the reading public. This is a great loss as it is in some ways as great a work as its illustrious and much filmed and parodied predecessor.
"The Last Man" was written in the period following her husband Percy Shelley's death.
Set in the twenty-first century, it was enormously influential on the development of English science-fiction, particularly on HG Wells (see "The Time Machine", "The Island of Dr Moreau" and "The Invisible Man"), Olaf Stapledon and, less obviously, Arthur C Clarke (see "Childhood's End").
Central to the book's philosophical approach is a rejection of the romanticism of Lord Byron, whom she knew well, and her late husband. It blends astute political observation, a complex tale of doomed love and obvious portraits of PB Shelley and Byron into its subtle, melancholy mix. It is beautifully written and rewards both initial reading and, even more, re-reading. This Oxford edition is well documented with an excellent introduction. The cover picture is wonderful.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Death and disease level all men 13 Aug 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This novel is a combination of a `roman à clefs' and science fiction, with gothic and autobiographic elements.

In her vision of the end of the 21st century, Mary Shelley sees the Greek occupying Istanbul and England as a republic with three political parties (royalists, democrats and aristocrats). The leader of the democrats deserts his responsibilities through fear of the plague, while the intention of the head of the aristocrats (a highly idealized portrait of P.B. Shelley) is `to diminish the power of the aristocracy to effect a greater equalization of wealth and privilege and to introduce a perfect system of republican government.'

Byron (Lord Raymond) is not in the same league: `Power was the aim of all his endeavors. The selected passion was ambition.'

Her vision of mankind is pessimistic: `There was but one good and one evil in the world - life and death.'

For life, `The choice is with us; let us will it and our habitation becomes a paradise.'

But, `What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery? We are not formed for enjoyment; disappointment is the never-failing pilot of our life's bark, and ruthlessly carries us to the shoals.'

`It is a strange fact, but incontestable, that the philanthropist, who ardent in his desire to do good, who disdains other argument than truth, has less influence over men's mind than he who refuses not to adopt any means, nor diffuse any falsehood for the advancement of his cause.'

Man doesn't control his destiny and the whole of mankind is wiped out by the plague. But, even on the verge of total destruction, false prophets preach intolerance with their `pernicious doctrines of election and special grace'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A little patience, and you have a good read.
This book is interesting. I don't think a better word can be used to describe it. I don't think that there is any reason to harp about it too much - you probably won't be finding... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Verdicts
4.0 out of 5 stars 2 novels in 1?
Quite a hefty tome and there seems to be 2 different stories. All the same, a good book but you need to concentrate to keep up with everything.
Published 12 months ago by Mr Paul Herring
5.0 out of 5 stars well worth the effort
A cracking good read and well worth the wait
I loved frankenstein so gave this a go and was worth it
Published 15 months ago by Paul E Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars !
Who wouldn't be delighted to find the public domain list of FREE classic literature. This is fantastic. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mrs. Little
3.0 out of 5 stars grief expressed - future denied
This has the potential to be a good story, but the many long, tortuous passages speak more of Mary Shelley's grief at the loss of her husband a couple of years earlier than adding... Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2011 by canoesailor
4.0 out of 5 stars A vision of the future?
A post-apocalyptic science-fantasy (written in 1826), "The Last Man" is Shelley's howl of rage at all the deaths she had witnessed; a revenge fantasy on the straight world that she... Read more
Published on 14 May 2011 by Geoff Sawers
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing classic
It seems like I've been reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man all year. I'm not the fastest of readers but whenever I read poetry I read even slower. Read more
Published on 10 April 2011 by Michael Finn
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a casual read
Mary Shelley's apocalyptic fantasy was harshly reviewed in her own time, so it's not surprising that some of those contemporary criticisms re-echo today. Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2011 by D. De Gruijter
4.0 out of 5 stars A bleak philosophical apocalypse
The Last Man, the story, tells an apocalyptic tale of the coming of an inescapable plague, and humankind confronting annihilation. Read more
Published on 19 Sep 2010 by LittleMoon
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT a classic
This book was savaged when it first appeared and for good reason. It really is awful. For a novel about the end of the world it contrives to be insular, snobbish and unimaginative. Read more
Published on 13 July 2010 by Reader
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